What’s Your Motivation?

Loving Hands
Give with open hands and open heart

Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To listen to the audio version, click below:

In his book, The Healing Power of Doing Good, Allan Luks tells the story of a well-meaning, charitable woman who desperately wanted to help humankind. Although she was not famous like Mother Teresa, she spent much of her life working with the homeless and destitute. But as time went on, she became more and more fixated on the outcome of what she was doing. When she couldn’t permanently change the conditions that were causing such misery, she became increasingly angry and frustrated. Without realizing it, she had become focused on personal power. This attitude eventually destroyed both her physical and emotional health.

Why are some people able to accomplish so much good and elevate their souls to great heights, while others become bitter and disillusioned? The difference is in their motivation. To God, only the heart’s true intention is important. Heroic deeds, showy displays of pious devotion, and eloquent words, do not mean as much to God as one small gesture made out of genuine love.

Personal gratification is its own reward, and sometimes God allows it in order to encourage us. It’s natural to be happy when we receive gratitude for our service to others; it is human nature to want love and approval from other people. It’s also true that the very act of helping others brings with it a feeling of deep satisfaction and often lifts our own mood when we are feeling depressed or troubled. To enjoy these positive feelings does not mean that we are selfishly motivated.

But this alone is not the criteria by which we should judge which deeds are of the most value. We might envision ourselves accomplishing wonderful things that show us in the best possible light, but our most worthwhile achievements will not always be the ones that satisfy our ego or have an immediately apparent outcome. Rather, they might consist of things we consider insignificant.

When an actor is working on a scene, the director or drama coach will challenge the actor by asking, “What’s your motivation?” By analyzing what drives the character, the actor will understand the character’s motives and be able to portray him more believably. It might benefit us to take a cue from the actor and ask ourselves, “What’s my motivation?” before we embark on any undertaking. For me as a Christian, I must ask myself not only “What would Jesus do?” but “Why would Jesus do it?”

Here’s a checklist for determining your motivation (you have to be totally honest for it to work!):

  • Am I doing good works or helping someone so I can feel important and/or show everyone how virtuous I am? For some of us, this is often the true, secret motivation lurking behind the outward altruism. When our efforts become unrewarding and tedious, when it feels like work, when the gratitude and accolades stop coming (or never come at all), will we then simply move on to something more personally gratifying? If so, our only motivation was to please ourselves, not help others or honor God.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said: “We must not drift away from the humble works, because these are the works nobody will do. They are never too small. We are so small we look at things in a small way. Even if we do a small thing for somebody, God, being almighty, sees everything as great. For there are many people who can do big things. But there are very few people who will do the small things.”

  • Am I trying to force someone to be more like me? I heard Joel Osteen confess in one of his inspiring talks that he used to criticize his wife’s habits, until one day he realized he was trying to make her over to be more like himself, even though they had distinctly different ways of doing things. This got me to thinking that all of us probably are guilty of this at one time or another. We think that just because someone doesn’t do something “our way,” he/she must be defective and needs to be made over into a “mini-me.” God has purposely created people with different personalities and ways of doing things, for a good reason! If everyone were the same, the world would be totally unbalanced. And I don’t know about you, but if I’m honest about it, the thought of everyone being like me is more than a little scary!
  • Am I making someone dependent on me? A common source of confusion is the concept of helping people versus taking over their responsibility, making them rely too much on us, or enabling them to continue on a destructive course. Many people subconsciously derive satisfaction from controlling others and making them feel indebted or dependent in an unhealthy way. Parents often do this with their children, but this co-dependent situation can exist in any relationship. Our role is not to make people dependent on us, but to help them achieve the self-respect and personal growth that come only out of effort and hardship. We also need to remember that God might have a different path in mind for this person than what we think is the “right way.” Charity

    Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  • Do I want to “save” someone? It’s important to realize that of our own power we cannot truly save anyone. Only God has the power to save a person, and although He might sometimes use us as instruments to accomplish this, God will not force Himself or His will on anyone. A person must want to be saved, must decide they sincerely want to overcome whatever is holding them back from spiritual development or a better, more productive life. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” [Rev. 3:20]. God will not break down a locked door, and only the person needing help can turn that key, not us! We cannot take away anyone’s suffering or figure out the reasons for it. We cannot “save” anyone. We can only offer ourselves as channels of God’s healing and love, realizing that the person we are trying to help must do their own part to open to it. 
  • Do I fulfill my religious obligations only when I’m in the mood or only because I fear God’s punishment? True, it might be better to do it for those reasons than not at all, and we all have times when we’re less than enthusiastic about our prayer time or attending religious services as we know we should. However, it would benefit us spiritually much more if we recognized these things as opportunities to show love and gratitude to God and enrich our souls. Fulfilling our spiritual obligations when we’re not in the mood is probably even more pleasing to God, because it shows Him that we are putting Him before our own feelings.

People often say, “I don’t get anything out of going to church/synagogue.” This is true for everyone at one time or another. There are times you might just sit there and not feel attentive or uplifted at all. However, you might also find, as I often have, that once you are in a place of worship, the peace and quiet and sense of God’s presence will soothe you and lift your spirits more than you expected it would. But even if this doesn’t always happen, the point is not for us to get anything out of it but to give something to God. Remember that God is never outdone in generosity – if you give Him this little bit of time out of your busy week, He will repay you in blessings a hundredfold! Of course, if you are avoiding in-person religious services due to health or other valid reasons, this is a different matter. But we can still spend some “quality time” with God in other ways. The important thing is to honor God by setting aside some time out of our lives that is strictly for God alone.

  • Do I try to “bargain” with God? Sometimes we might promise God all sorts of things, and make the effort to do good works, in order to barter with God for favors (“I’ll do this for You if You give me what I want”). Then when we conclude that God did not keep “His end of the bargain,” we become bitter and disillusioned. Even if things do work out as we hoped, we often forget to keep our promises to God, or we drop our good works because we have gotten what we wanted. God does not bargain with us. He already knows what we really need (not just what we think we want) and the best possible outcome for any situation, not only for us but for others who might be involved.

God gives us blessings out of His infinite love for us, not because He is swayed by our impressive bargaining power! If God grants you a blessing and you want to do something for Him to show your gratitude, this is wonderful. But don’t dangle a carrot in front of God. He doesn’t need our carrots. Give from your heart; don’t give with strings attached.

  • Am I too focused on the outcome of my efforts? This is a tough one! We all want to know that our efforts meant something, that they had a positive effect. But not seeing results doesn’t mean our efforts were in vain or that God is displeased with our work. It simply means that the time is not yet right, or our efforts were thwarted by another person’s attitude or lack of openness. Sometimes, God has plans for our work or for another soul that do not conform to our own ideas. Having the right motives means that if God wills a different outcome, or if he doesn’t let us see successful results from our efforts, we will trust His better judgment and infinite wisdom. The only thing that matters to God is the effort we made and our intentions when we did it.

Our true worth is not measured by talent, intelligence, or worldly success, but by how much we love and how open we are to others. When we strive to be of service to God or to our fellow humans for God’s sake, rather than our own ulterior motives, our smallest actions take on a Divine magnificence, which shines through our words and actions as an inspiration to others. We all will leave this earth one day, and our deeds might be forgotten. But if our motives were pure, our actions will be glorified in eternity and our souls will be radiant reflections of God’s all-encompassing love. Our reward will far surpass our greatest efforts or any earthly satisfaction. This should be our primary motivation.

Again, quoting St. Teresa of Calcutta:

Mother Teresa-2

Staying Hopeful in a Troubled World

Staying Hopeful in a Troubled World, Sunset-Sunrise, mountains, trees.
“God is Love, and knows no other way to be.”

To listen to the podcast/audio version, click player button below:

Does this sometimes happen to you? You wake up in the morning, feeling hopeful and looking forward to your day. Then you switch on the TV or or check out your favorite online news source, and there it is: another war, terrorist attack, school shooting, or other heinous, senseless act of violence. Disturbing images of death, horror and destruction instantly transform your positive, optimistic mood into one of sorrow, disgust and fear. Even the commercials are depressing, constantly filling our minds with messages about terrible diseases, and drugs with horrific side effects. It’s as if they want to brainwash us into becoming sick by constantly suggesting it to us.

Terrifying questions and scenarios fill your mind: Where will the next attack happen? What if my loved ones or I are the next victims? Will there ever be peace on earth? Is it futile to plan, hope and dream about the future?  Do we even have a future? How can I stay hopeful when the world is such a mess?

During these troubled times, we are naturally concerned about our own country and the world. We wonder what we possibly can do to stay hopeful and to do our part to help. Excessive grief, fear and anxiety about the world’s troubles will keep us from functioning effectively. It’s important to maintain the right perspective so that we don’t become frightened and discouraged. Each one of us is on earth to fulfill a unique purpose, and unless we do, we will never feel peace, regardless of what is happening in the world. As we go about our day-to-day lives, we need to stay hopeful and open to God’s Light and love, grounding ourselves in prayer, reflection, meditation, and living our beliefs as authentically as possible.

In John 15:17-19, Jesus tells His apostles: “This I command you: love one another. If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own, but because you do not belong to the world, the world hates you.”

The world is not troubled because of God, but because it ignores what God is and how God wishes people to live. God is Love, and knows no other way to be.  If humankind truly understood this, it would open our eyes forever, and evil and hatred would cease to have any power in the world. But we will not be able to recognize God as long as we are too busy deciding what we think God should be, trying to force the Boundless and Unlimited to fit into our limited, human perception. Spontaneous glimpses of God occur when human beings are focused on one another instead of on themselves. If we wish to see God here on earth, we must seek God in one another. We must spread Divine Light and love wherever and whenever we can.

The world won’t be saved by violence or empty words, but by love and truth. Strictly human ideas of God give opinions, not truth, and result in discord and hatred.  Through troubled times, we must keep honoring Truth and giving it to others. God is truly recognized only when people stop fighting about who or what God is and instead aspire to the highest of all human endeavors: the simple ability to love. That’s all God wants of us. What we can do to help the world is love and work and stop dwelling on fear and anxiety. We can concentrate on only one thing at a time; if we fill our minds with Light, there will be no room for darkness and fear.

Inner peace is independent of what goes on around us. It’s like armor, shielding our souls from the evil and turmoil of the world, allowing us to stay positive, calm, and strong. Regardless of whether times are good or bad, we give our lives meaning by never losing sight of our high ideals or our purpose. If conflict appears to surround us, if we feel doubt and confusion about religious or political views and other issues, we shouldn’t dwell on these things until we lose all hope. Answering to the world instead of to our higher purpose will prevent us from living out God’s plan for our lives. We must not get discouraged or frightened when restless and misguided people threaten peace on earth. The world cannot destroy our inner peace unless we let it.

10 tips to stay positive and hopeful:

  1. When worry and sorrow threaten your peace of mind, take some time to quiet your mind. Learn how to meditate, even if for just a few minutes a day. Keep a journal in which you record your thoughts, fears, and prayers. Talk to God about your anxieties and concerns, then release them into God’s care. Above all, quiet your mind to hear God’s gentle whispers of reassurance within your soul.
  2. Don’t stay glued to news programs! Nowadays, news is available 24/7 in all its gory detail, and while you’re watching one horrible news story, there is a crawl at the bottom of the screen telling about still more depressing news. So it’s important to strictly limit the amount of time you spend absorbing all this negativity. Decide that you will spend a brief period of time every day catching up on important events. Set a time limit (i.e., 15 minutes) and stick to it. Then turn your attention to other, more productive, positive things and do not look at or read the news again until the following day.
  3. Read or listen to positive, motivating, spiritually-uplifting material. Copy in your journal any passages you read/hear that speak to your soul.
  4. Post some comforting quotes and/or scripture verses where they will constantly remind you that God is holding you with loving care, and ultimately all will be well.
  5. Listen to soothing and/or inspirational music. Classical music works particularly well in having a quieting effect on the mind.
  6. Spend time with loved ones — human and animal — and in activities that nurture your spirit and remind you that the world is still a beautiful place filled with much love and goodness.
  7. Physical activity reduces stress and restores equilibrium. Whether you enjoy walking in nature, working out at the gym, dancing, or doing yoga, moving your body will help relax and refresh your mind and spirit.
  8. Continue to plan, dream and set goals. “Where there’s life there’s hope” may be a cliche, but it’s true! Planning for our future keeps us hopeful and focused on the positive.
  9. Don’t underestimate the power of doing good right where you are. A man who was distraught and heartbroken over all the trouble in the world cried out to God, “Why don’t you send help?” God replied, “I did send help. I sent you!” The ripple effect is a reality; however, it works for both good and bad actions. Drop your pebble of love and kindness into the lake of your daily life, and the ripples will keep spreading outward. You may never see all the results during your earthly life, but trust that they are happening!
  10. The next time a frightening news report or act of violence disturbs your inner peace, stay hopeful by remembering God’s own promises:

“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name…”

[Isaiah 49:15-16]

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

[Deuteronomy 31:6]
Isaiah 49:15-16
Upon the palms of my hands I have written your name
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

PRAYER FOR PEACE IN THE WORLD

Heavenly Creator, human rights are precious in your Your sight, and we ask you to answer our prayers for freedom, justice, and peace for all the nations of the world. Give our military the power to stand firm against its attackers. Make them aware of their responsibility to represent our nation with honor, truth, spiritual fortitude and moral courage, that our freedom may endure and spread outward to touch others who desperately need to be free.

Honoring our nation should not take precedence over honoring You, so let our leaders be governed by Your will. You are not a God of violence, but of Light and love. Help others to see You this way, and not use Your name as an excuse to hurt their fellow humans. Give us Your gifts of strength and peace. Help us to see ourselves without the self-righteous arrogance that spurns those who are different, yet with enough self-respect to fight for what is right and just.

We pray that You will bring an end to hatred and evil, and grant us safe and fruitful times blessed by Your peace and love. Help our nation to recognize its great power to help and guide its fellow nations, yet keep us ever humble as children of Your great mercy and truth. Honoring Your will is the only road that leads to peace. Gently guide our steps on the path You have set before us. Amen.

Soldier in war

Opening to Guidance (30-Second Reflection)

photo-1444703686981-a3abbc4d4fe3

If you want to do something, but are unsure about whether or not it’s the right thing, pray about it so that you will be guided. But how do you know you are being guided and are not just doing what your human will dictates? One way to tell is to honestly determine whether you are staying open-minded or are just dwelling on what you would like the answer to be. 

Sometimes our human nature fixates on something, and no matter what we see or hear to the contrary, we will never budge from our position. If you approach it this way, you will never get guidance, because you will block it. Guidance will not always be what you want to hear, and often it will seem unfair and contrary to what you expected. God is not unfair, however; God is only doing what is best for you as a soul. If God sees trouble and pain ahead for you, God will guide you away from it. But not everyone listens to God’s guidance, and when they get hurt they blame God. 

Trust is an essential part of seeking guidance. Trusting God will attune us to how we are being guided and put back a greater sense of God’s presence in our lives.

I’m lost and confused, Lord,
I haven’t a clue
of what to do next,
so I’m coming to You.

I’m depressed and discouraged,
don’t know where to turn.
What’s the lesson in this
that you want me to learn?

Lead me and guide me –
my life’s in Your hands!
Help me to trust.
Help me understand.

“Seventy Times Seven:” The Challenge of Forgiveness – Pt. 2

Forgive
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

FOR THE AUDIO VERSION, CLICK BELOW:

In Part 1 of this two-part series,  we defined forgiveness as a process that moves us from the cold, unforgiving emotions of bitterness and resentment to warmer, more altruistic feelings of love and compassion towards the one who has offended us. We discussed why it’s important to forgive and how we can prepare ourselves to begin the process.           

 Steps to Forgiveness 

Following are a dozen steps to bring you through the forgiveness process, and ways to follow through and sustain your resolution to forgive. You may need to implement only one or two of these steps, or you might need to use all or most of them. It will depend on your particular situation. They do not have to be done in any particular order; it’s all a matter of what works for you.

1. Personal Encounter: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar; go first and be reconciled with your brother” [Matthew 5:23-24].  After a cool-down period of mental and spiritual preparation, arrange a discussion with the person who hurt you. Often, much of the anger will dissipate once you are face-to-face. If handled correctly, conflict can lead to positive change.  Ask for an explanation and try to clear up any misunderstandings. It is only fair to others that we clarify what kind of behavior offends us. Do not use confrontational, accusatory language. Be respectful. Preserve your inner peace. Repeat the other person’s words back to ensure you understand their meaning. Don’t argue in circles or bring up past hurts. Keep in mind that you cannot always change someone’s point of view, and forgiveness does not always lead to reconciliation, which needs the cooperation of both parties. If you cannot resolve your conflict with someone by yourselves, call in an objective third party to mediate.

Never arrange a face-to-face meeting where you are alone with someone who has a violent temper, is abusive or otherwise unstable, or if you have difficulty controlling your own temper!  If you have been the victim of abuse, you may need to seek the help of a professional therapist to help you work through the trauma. Your safety is of paramount importance!

2.  Written Communication/Social Media: It’s important to realize that it is much easier for us to offend people or feel offended as a result of written communications as opposed to phone or in-person conversations. In this era of social media, texting and email, where communication is instantaneous, allowing little opportunity for rewrites or careful selection of our words, more and more of us are finding ourselves dealing with real or imagined offenses. 

When you feel offended by something that was written to you, do not hastily dash off an angry, written reply. Take a break and then slowly re-read the message. You might find that you missed or misread some words, or “read between the lines” something that wasn’t actually there at all. If you still feel hurt or uncertain about the meaning of what was written, call or meet with the other person, if at all possible, and ask for clarification. You will then be in a position to discuss the situation and clear up any misunderstandings.

If verbal communication is not feasible, after a period of prayer and reflection, write a calm reply and ask the person to clarify their meaning, or present your side of the situation in a non-confrontational manner. If the other person insists on being rude and argumentative, the best response from you is none at all. There is no value in arguing with a person whose mind is closed and who does not want to compromise. If certain people are often negative or offensive on social media, it’s usually best to quietly disengage from contact with them. Most of the time, other people eventually will see these people for what they are and disregard their negative comments or cut off contact with them as well. But if other people believe the negative person’s lies or unkind remarks about you, they probably are not the kind of friends you want, anyway!

3. When no contact of any kind is possible: If the incident happened a long time ago, the other person is deceased or their whereabouts unknown, or if meeting/talking with them is inappropriate or unsafe, work through the rest of the steps in the process to bring you to a point of forgiveness and inner peace. It is not always necessary or possible for the other party to know you have forgiven them.

4. Examine your own actions. Ask yourself honestly: “Am I being overly sensitive? Did I do something to cause or exacerbate the situation? Could I have reacted more appropriately?” If you find that you are also to blame for the situation, acknowledge your part in it, apologize to the other party if possible, and above all forgive yourself as well as the other person. We all are human and we all make mistakes. Acknowledge, make amends, and move on.

5. Talk it out with someone whose judgment you trust. Don’t whine, play victim, or place blame, but discuss the event as objectively as you can. Then ask for honest feedback and receive it with an open mind. Sometimes another person’s viewpoint can help you see the situation more clearly. Tell your impartial friend not to allow you to discuss the matter repeatedly, and don’t go complaining about it to everyone you know. Continual rehashing of the incident will only deepen your feelings of resentment. Seek help from clergy, a counselor or a therapist if you continue to be deeply troubled about it.

Friends Talking over Coffee
Image courtesy of Serge Bertasisu Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

6. Keep a sense of proportion. Hatred and bitterness arise out of our failure to realize that “we are not in the flesh, but in the spirit.” [Romans 8:9].  As spirit, nothing and no one on earth can destroy us. Superficial differences and petty arguments become meaningless when viewed in the vast panorama of eternit

7. Shift your perspective. Although we don’t have God’s ability to see into anyone’s soul, attempting to see the incident from the other person’s point of view can often help us to forgive. One way to do this is by writing out an account of the incident as seen from your opponent’s perspective. Were there extenuating circumstances, personal problems or pressures that may have been contributing factors? By putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, feelings of understanding, compassion and empathy may begin to replace the anger and pain.  

Sad Woman dealing with difficulty in forgiving someone
Image courtesy of nenetus at freedigitalphotos.net

8. Release your emotions. Write honestly about your feelings in a journal, or even in a letter to the person who hurt you. Don’t hold back – this is the time to release all the anger, hurt and frustration you feel. However – and this is vital – NEVER send the letter! Tear it up or burn it as a symbolic way of letting go of the negative emotions. Watch an appropriate movie or TV program, read a story, or listen to music that will help you vent some of your feelings. Don’t be afraid to cry as you watch or listen — tears can have a healing, soothing effect and soften your heart towards your offender. Some people find it helpful to use physical exercise as a safety valve for pent-up emotions.

9. Focus on the other person’s strengths and qualities. If your relationship basically has been a positive one, recall all the good times you’ve shared, the things you like about the person, the many ways in which the association has benefitted you.

10. Take positive action. Many people find peace by turning their pain and anger into constructive endeavors, i.e. working to change laws, raising public awareness over social injustice, giving time and effort to charitable organizations, etc. This brings good out of the evil that was done to them.

11. Recall a specific occasion when you offended someone and were forgiven. Remember the freedom and gratitude you felt as a result of being forgiven. How would it feel to do the same for the person who hurt you? Remember, at the same time that you are praying to forgive someone, someone might be praying for the grace to forgive you!

12. Find comfort in knowing that Divine justice will ultimately prevail. If someone has treated you unfairly, and no human justice is forthcoming, don’t become discouraged or seek revenge. We have God’s promise that all will be made right, if not on earth, then in the next world:  “The Lord remembers what their enemies have done; he waits for the right time to punish them…The Lord will rescue his people when he sees that their strength is gone. He will have mercy on those who serve him, when he sees how helpless they are.” [Deut. 32:34,36].

Following Through on Forgiveness

Once you resolve to forgive, follow through on it. Write out a pledge to God and the person you are forgiving, and display it where you can see it often. Tell a third party about your commitment. This will make you more likely to stick to it.

After you have forgiven, let the matter rest and don’t bring it up with the person again.  When Jesus said to forgive someone not just once, but “seventy times seven” times (Matt. 18:22), He meant, “Don’t keep a scorecard!”     

Man and woman hugging each other

Forgiving doesn’t always mean forgetting. There may be times when you’ll recall the incident and feel the pain all over again. It’s human nature to remember things that hurt us, part of our survival instinct to protect ourselves from being hurt in the same way again. As long as you don’t deliberately dwell on the memory to the point where you stir up bitterness and resentment again, you have not reneged on your promise to forgive. Accept and acknowledge the memories as they arise, then release them and move on.

Everyone’s experience of forgiveness will be unique. It might take time for you to be able to forgive. If you go through all the above steps and still find yourself unable to do it, don’t despair. Just continue to pray for the person who hurt you and do not dwell on hatred or bitterness. The challenge of forgiveness is not one we have to face alone. Give the situation to God and trust that He will restore light where darkness dwells, and peace where there is conflict, by infusing our hearts with the precious gift of forgiveness.

“Seventy Times Seven:” The Challenge of Forgiveness – Part 1

CoupleHavingArgument
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To listen to audio version, click below:

Are you having trouble forgiving someone?

Everyone deals with the challenge of forgiveness at one time or another.

Then Peter came to [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

 “No!” Jesus replied, “Seventy times seven!” [Matt. 18:21-22]

Forgiveness is an integral part of living a spiritually mature life, yet it is a complex and distressing issue for many of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. This two-part series will explore the challenge of forgiveness and present steps to help us in the process of forgiveness.   

What is forgiveness?

One big stumbling block is confusion over what forgiveness actually means. The dictionary defines it as “granting pardon without harboring resentment.” Forgiveness is an altruistic outpouring of love and compassion towards those who offend us. It does not mean ignoring or denying that we have been hurt; condoning, justifying, or making excuses for someone’s actions; nor does it mean that persons committing an offense should not be held accountable for their actions.

It’s normal to feel hurt, anger, fear, or betrayal when someone offends us. But when we dwell excessively upon the offense, nurse our wounded pride and focus on revenge, our hearts become hardened with the unforgiving emotions of bitterness, resentment, even hatred.  That’s why we must take steps to transform these destructive emotions into positive ones.

We need to realize that forgiveness does not mean we allow someone to continue hurting us through abusive relationships, perpetual irresponsibility and disregard for our feelings, or persistent behavior that is destructive to themselves and others. In such cases, we may need to avoid future emotional entanglements until and unless serious steps have been taken to resolve the problems. But we still can let go of our bitterness. Even after forgiving someone, the relationship and your feelings for the person may never be the same. Forgiveness involves non-possessive, “agape” love (charity), not necessarily an intimate, personal, or physically-demonstrative affection.

The degree of difficulty in granting forgiveness does not always depend upon the gravity of the offense. We may be able to forgive certain actions, yet struggle with others because they injure our feelings more deeply or trigger memories of past hurts. Some people are openly antagonistic towards us for no apparent reason.  This blow to our ego is hard to take. But being spiritually mature means learning to forgive those who do not or cannot love us back.

 Why should we forgive?

Forgiveness is a recurring theme throughout the Scriptures. In the Lord’s Prayer, Christians ask God to forgive us in the same way that we forgive others. Forgiveness is one of the most compelling lessons taught, and perhaps the most challenging.

Here are three reasons why forgiving others is important:

  • It blesses the person who offended us.
  • We have an obligation to forgive as we have been forgiven by God and by other people; for Christians, forgiveness follows Christ’s own example.
  • Forgiving others benefits us physically, mentally, and spiritually. Our emotions always turn back upon us. An unforgiving attitude makes peace of mind impossible, and some experts believe that harboring negative emotions like bitterness, resentment, and hatred for long periods of time can even lead to physical illness.

Steps Toward Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a process that can be broken down into manageable steps.  As with any important undertaking, adequate preparation is essential.

How to Prepare:

Step 1 – Pray for the gift of being able to forgive

Prayer softens the heart, opening it to receive God s grace. Also pray for the person(s) who hurt you. It’s difficult to stay angry with a person for whom you are praying. Here is a suggested prayer:

“Lord, I want to forgive ______, who has hurt me deeply, but I feel no forgiveness, compassion, or charity in my heart. Every time I try to forgive, I just get more frustrated. I don’t want to honor only my human feelings and continue to live with heartache over this, so I’m asking You to help me. Give me a little of Your great capacity for love and compassion. Help me to act with high-mindedness, not just human emotion. Place within my heart the determination to be selfless and forgiving.

Please bless this person I am trying to forgive, and heal any pain or bitterness that is in their heart. If it is Your will that I continue to have this person in my life, please heal our relationship and help us to work out our differences with mutual respect and charity. I promise that as You help me, I will help others; as You forgive me, I will forgive; as You believe in me, I will believe in the value of others; and as You love me, I will love others in return.  Lord, make me a soul who reflects Your Light. Amen.”

FoldedHandsonBible
Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Step 2 – Seek inspiration:

Reading the Scriptures and other inspirational material can also open the mind and heart to forgiveness. Here are some relevant Scripture passages about God’s forgiveness of us, and our obligation to forgive others:

If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.

[Psalm 130:3-4]

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.

[Jer. 31:34].

Where is another God like You, who pardons the sins of the survivors among his people? You cannot stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing mercy. Once again You will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under Your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean.

[Micah 7:18,19].

For if you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

[Matt. 6:12].

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but repay evil with good.

[Romans 12:19-21]. 

Step 3 – Make a conscious effort to begin the forgiveness process:

Don’t wait for a warm, fuzzy feeling towards your offender. You probably won’t feel like forgiving someone who has caused you pain, and it will take an act of will to take the first step.  If warm feelings toward the other person do happen, it will be the result of forgiveness, not vice versa.

(In Part 2, we’ll further examine the process of forgiveness as a series of steps, and explore some tips on how to follow through on your resolution to forgive.)

Forgive Note

                                                                          

The Instrument (30-second Reflection)

Piano with Title

I am but an instrument in the Master’s hands,
but that’s all right with me.
I am seeking praise for the Musician, not the instrument,
as if I were a piano being played on a concert stage by a virtuoso.

At the end of the concert, the applause and good reviews are for the pianist,
although the piano must be finely-tuned,
and the musician must have a good rapport with his instrument,
in order to produce beautiful music.

The instrument is important and serves a purpose in its own way; 
but without the musician, the instrument is silent — just a hunk of wood.
If the instrument is unsatisfactory, the musician can always get another; 
Pianos are numerous, but great musicians few.

Lord, make me a good instrument
through which You can produce your masterpieces and be praised!

© EverydayLifeSpirituality.com

Adversity’s Hidden Blessings

Consider It All Joy-Bird
TO LISTEN TO AUDIO VERSION, CLICK ARROW ABOVE

A legend tells how, once upon a time, birds had no wings and couldn’t fly. One day, God handed them each a pair of wings, which God instructed them to carry. It was grueling at first, because the wings were heavy and cumbersome. But the birds obediently carried the wings at their sides and struggled along. Gradually, the wings began to merge into the birds’ bodies. Their resilience in dealing with this adversity, which had seemed like a burden, soon freed the birds from their earthbound state and enabled them to experience the miracle of flight.

As the legend illustrates, God’s plan is always far greater in scope and better for us than anything we could imagine with our limited perspective. When we are too complacent, we can get lazy. Instead of seeking new opportunities for personal and spiritual growth, we cling to the job, routine, environment, and people that feel comfortable and safe. We are like children who fear the first day of school because it is a new and unfamiliar experience. But if children are to learn and mature, they need to trust and obey their parents, get an education, and face new challenges. Likewise, if we are to grow spiritually and reach our full potential, God has to “shake us up” a bit. This often involves adversity in the form of unwelcome changes, difficult situations, painful events, or the loss of someone or something we cherish. 

Continue Reading

How to Be More Patient

Fishing -

To listen to audio version, click here:

While Joe was out fishing one day, he spotted an old man observing him from a distance. As the hours went by, the man continued to sit there and watch. As Joe was leaving, he approached the old man and said, “I couldn’t help noticing that you were watching me fish all day.” The man replied, “Well, you see, I used to fish myself years ago, but I gave it up ‘cause I just ain’t got the patience.”

For many of us, patience is one of the hardest virtues to practice. Our prayer might be, “God, please give me patience — right now!” We want to be more patient, but in this age of “instant everything,” waiting for anything seems a waste of time. Being patient is something I struggle with on a daily basis. I usually find it relatively easy to be patient when dealing with clients, working with animals, or when writing, doing artwork or other enjoyable pursuits, even when they sometimes prove difficult. But it is often much harder for me to be patient with other drivers, at home, and with the people closest to me, when the tedium and annoyances of familiarity and the daily routine grate on my nerves and make me irritable and “snappish.” 

Impatience can damage our relationships with other people. It can even affect our relationship with God (whatever “God” means to you), implying a lack of trust that God will do what’s best for us. We want what we want when we want it. But the fact is, our idea of good timing is often not good at all. God knows this and gives us things at just the right time, so that we won’t fall into disastrous situations.

Being impatient is like trying to swim against a riptide. By struggling against it, you eventually become tired, get pulled under, and drown. But if you swim parallel to the shore, you can escape the riptide’s pull and then head back to land. It’s the same with life: if we constantly fight the tide of trouble or stagnation, we get dragged down by defeat and despair. But by steadily going on with our lives, keeping our goals in sight but not struggling against fate to reach them, we eventually succeed.

Floating on your back conserves your energy when you are swimming. In the same way, when we feel overwhelmed by life, we can just float in God’s love for a while and let it carry us through the rough places. At some point we must resume swimming — but this time we will have our strength restored and feel more confident of reaching our destination.

Patience must be nurtured in order to grow healthy and strong. But how can you become more patient? Keep reading!

7 Ways to Become More Patient:

Continue Reading